Newsletter of the Mercurians

In lieu of the usual book reviews, we have decided to conduct an experiment. The following is an annotated list of selected books recently published in the field of the history of communications technology. The idea is that the annotated list is more useful than just a list of new books, because it provides more information. This format lacks the personal touch of a reviewer, but it allows us to publish information about more books, thereby making the exercise more valuable (hopefully) to you, the reader. We are interested in knowing what you think about this innovation, so please send your comments to:

Nortel Networks: How Innovation and Vision Created a Network Giant.
By Larry MacDonald.
New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
Pp. xxxix + 259; bibliographical references (p. 241-251) and index. $27.95.

Larry MacDonald furnishes his readers a simple formula. Welcome to the culture of speed. Blur the Canadian origins. Ramp up international sales, especially to the United States. Establish useful corporate alliances. So long, sluggish and dated product lines! Bye bye, redundant employees! Whoosh! Grab companies with useful technologies like Bay Networks. Oops! Down goes the stock price. Pull back, holding your breath. That's the story of Canada's Nortel Networks in a nutshell. More comprehensive detail about how Nortel established the groundwork for Internet-based corporate networks on wireless communications and fiber-optics connections is offered in Larry MacDonald's Nortel Networks: How Innovation and Vision Created a Network Giant.

Nortel began in the late 19th century as the telephone-manufacturing arm of Bell Canada, originally building telephones based on the designs of the leading U.S. telecommunications manufacturer, Western Electric Company. For a time it also produced a host of consumer electrical products, such as fire alarms and radios, and was a major supplier to the Canadian military during the Second World War. By the late 1960s, however, Nortel began exploring digital telephone switches, long before other telecommunications companies, including U.S. behemoth AT&T, which became its eventual customer. In 2000, its parent company spun off Nortel as an independent corporation.

Larry MacDonald is a technology writer for various Canadian newspapers, including the Ottawa Citizen and the Financial Post, and a former Canadian federal government economist. He refers to government sanctioning of Nortel's monopolistic position as the preferred supplier for Bell Canada as “a covert industrial policy.” This policy allowed the company to grow into the international player that it is today. MacDonald also speculates on the future of Nortel, namely, he believes that it will join forces with its California-based competitor, Cisco Systems.